WAVE OF THE FUTURE: The Moveable Feast events mark a major movement in valley cuisine. Photograph by Aron Cooperman
Before starting Moveable Feast—a marketplace of gourmet food trucks at various spots in the South Bay—Ryan Sebastian worked as a traffic engineer, which got him thinking about how cities are laid out, particularly the different types of social spaces. His particular interest is what is called “the third place.” It’s not home. It’s not work. Rather, it’s a common place where the community gathers.
“I think in San Jose, for a long time, we’ve tried to eliminate those places because San Jose has historically been a bedroom community,” Sebastian says. “You can go to a mall, but does it always have to revolve around shopping? I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
A famers market is a good example of a thriving third space in our society. Sebastian’s Moveable Feast is actually very much like a farmers market, except that instead of vegetables, shoppers can buy Korean tacos, premium grilled-cheese sandwiches, soul-food, Chinese fusion, Peruvian street food or whatever unique, eclectic items the various food trucks are offering on that given day. As at a farmers market, a lot of the people will hang out and socialize for hours; they don’t just grab their food and leave.
“Any marketplace, I think, is a very important part of society,” Sebastian tells me. “The idea of creating this space where people can gather, where people are able to spend time is very important. I don’t think that’s going to go away.”
Moveable Feast sets up at several locations on a weekly basis. To pick two, they assemble in the Garden City parking lot at Saratoga and Stevens Creek every Sunday from 11:30pm until 2pm, and at the VTA station parking lot on Curtner in Willow Glen every Friday from 5 until 9pm.
There are upturned buckets for people to sit on, and visitors make themselves comfortable all around the market. Depending on the place and season, there will be between four and 12 food trucks. The trucks vary from day to day, though Sebastian is very careful in choosing which ones to put together at each Moveable Feast event: “We’re not going to make a market where everyone sells the exact same item. We try and make sure that the markets are diverse in their offerings.”
Sebastian’s background in traffic engineering comes into play as he calculates the daily traffic counts of the different spots. He estimates that the streets near the Garden City location get an average daily count of 45,000 cars. He is also careful to orient the trucks toward the street, to make them visible and enticing to passing motorists.
“We’re trying to claw back the automobile-oriented design of the city,” Sebastian says. “We’re trying to build a more urban feel here, even though our city has a more suburban character.”
Moveable Feast was originally called “San Jose Eats” and was held in San Pedro Square in April 2011. That first San Jose Eats event was put on by Treatbot, the ice cream/karaoke food truck that Sebastian and his wife had started a year earlier. It was the first food-truck festival in San Jose and featured roughly 20 gourmet food trucks. Approximately 10,000 people attended.
As Sebastian recalls, “We were completely not ready for something like that. We only had a 14,000-square-foot parking lot. It was way beyond what anyone expected.”
They put on a few more San Jose Eats events at San Pedro Square, before changing the name to Moveable Feast. While the initial event suffered from being overcrowded, the subsequent editions at San Pedro Square didn’t have enough people because the location didn’t have good drive-by traffic numbers.
By the end of 2011, they moved to the Garden City location on a weekly basis, slowly adding other spots on different days of the week. Their initial audience was a young social-media-savvy crowd. Nowadays, through word of mouth and drive-by traffic, they appeal to people of every age, race and class.
“The audience that comes to Moveable Feast now is basically a cross-section of San Jose,” Sebastian says.
In order for trucks to participate as vendors, they need to pay a fee, but Sebastian believes it’s a reasonable one, especially considering how much being part of the event widens each truck’s audience. There are upward of 90 trucks currently in Sebastian’s rotation, most of which are based out of the South Bay. Arguably, the success of Moveable Feast this past year has directly influenced the influx of new gourmet food trucks in San Jose.
While Moveable Feast stays busy during the winter, it is during the summer months that people really make it a happening. Families will set up tables and chairs in the parking lots and hang out for hours, while others tailgate.
“Sometimes, you’ll see 50 tailgates in the parking lot. People want to do something fun, and if they can eat and sit down with their family and friend and just hang out, that’s what we want them to do,” Sebastian says.
See http://mvblfeast.com for days, times and locations